ALERT: Watch ‘A closer look at the fentanyl crisis in real time’ Part 1; has this epidemic peaked?

Here are the facts, photos and videos, cold coffee–parents be advised due to the subject matter and visuals

In this BHN Live episode, news producer, Julia Dudley Najieb, reiterates the nationwide fentanyl crisis by sharing perspectives from a medical expert, renowned author, drug dealer, drug addict and straight facts from the DEA’s platform.

The drug overdose news headlines, the highway billboards, and the local law enforcement warnings regarding the opioid epidemic may not be alarming enough to alert most Americans that they could be next — accidentally.

      What may be alarming to some people is that most of these accidental overdose deaths are caused by a key deadly drug that has been synthesized in the streets and disguised under the predominant, fake pills sold to the unknown drug user, who thinks he/she/they is buying the fake prescription medication.

 

      According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), federal organization in charge of enforcing the controlled substances laws of the United States, fentanyl is a highly addictive man-made, synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose.

      Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, fentanyl is also diverted for abuse.

     Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin.
     In 2021, the DEA issued a Public Safety Alert on the widespread drug trafficking of fentanyl in the form of fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills. These pills are made to look identical to real prescription medications—including OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Xanax®—but only contain filler and fentanyl, and are often deadly. Fake pills are readily found on social media. No pharmaceutical pill bought on social media is safe. The only safe medications are ones prescribed directly to you by a trusted medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist.

      The DEA alerted the public to a sharp nationwide increase in the lethality of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills last month. DEA laboratory testing in 2022 revealed that six out of 10 fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from DEA’s announcement in 2021 that four out of 10 fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain a potentially deadly dose.  See Counterfeit Pills Fact Sheet.

 

How did fentanyl get to the United States?

Online article, How Latin America’s Synthetic Drug Traffickers Launder Dirty Cash cited the latest report from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on the nexus between synthetic drugs and money laundering techniques, published November 30, which highlights just how many avenues criminal groups can turn to make illicit drug proceeds appear clean.

     The article continued: Fentanyl, and synthetic opioids in general, require access to a broad range of chemical precursors that organized crime has typically sourced from China and India.
     In 2019, China took a firmer stance on fentanyl, banning the sale of some chemicals and severely restricting the actions of chemical producers in the country.
     However, last year, InSight Crime reported on how some 65 companies were identified as selling these chemicals online because Chinese companies have provided the Mexican market with precursor chemicals for years. The Brookings Institution noted that these sellers often specifically advertise their ability to “clear customs in Mexico.”

A community hit hard by fentanyl

Although Pennsylvania is identified as only the 10th state with the highest opioid death rate, one of its cities, Philadelphia, has a neighborhood that is a noticeable, infamous, horrific mirror of the opioid epidemic.
      According to the DEA, 81% of the 2020 overdose deaths in Philadelphia included fentanyl found in cocaine, methamphetamine, counterfeit pills, and others while 94% of opioid deaths involved fentanyl directly. The data also revealed that 48% of the Philadelphia overdose deaths contained an opioid (primarily fentanyl) and a stimulant, which reflects the continuing trend of poly-drug use in the region.
 
       However, that one neighborhood is infamously known for displaying the critical opioid addiction epidemic in real time in Philadelphia — that would be Kensington.
       According to PBS online article, ‘Children still live there’: The fight for safe summer play in Kensington by journalist, Sammy Caiola, Kensington, is known for its open-air drug markets and some of the highest rates of gun violence in Philadelphia.
 
     Kensington was the birthplace of the K&A Gang, an Irish American organized crime association known for their distribution of methamphetamine in the 1980s. Over time black and Hispanic street dealers took over larger portions of the drug trade, especially heroin, fentanyl, and crack cocaine. (The original Kensington is now more commonly called Fishtown because shad fishing became the dominant industry there in the 18th and 19th centuries.)
However according to Kensington History website, before that, Kensington—and all of Philadelphia—has been the ancestral home of the Lenape, American Indians whose territory stretched along the East Coast from present-day Delaware to New York. Although Pennsylvania prides itself on a story of harmonious relationships between Indians and Quaker settlers, many of Pennsylvania’s first residents were pushed out of Pennsylvania by European land claims, violence, and disease.
      As many African Americans and Hispanics arrived in Philadelphia, the jobs that drew them were coming to an end. With the passing of the Highways Act in 1956 and the development of the surrounding suburbs, much of the city ’s manufacturing moved away. Between 1947 and 1965, Philadelphia saw a 25% decline in employment. From 1955 to 1975, three-quarters of its industrial jobs left.
      White immigrant groups who had come to Philadelphia earlier often had multiple generations to work, get an education, and access the social welfare system created for them, before creating enough social and economic capital to move beyond “landing neighborhoods,” like Kensington. Many people of color who arrived later “were essentially abandoned on their journey to the American Dream due to a lack of opportunity,” McKinney said.
Stepping into the gap were social service organizations, with some of the city’s largest Latino agencies founded in the 1960s and 70s, including Concilio, Congreso, and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM).
 
      Today Kensington is one of Philadelphia’s most diverse neighborhoods, with about 25% identifying as Black, 50% White and 20% Mixed race on the U.S. Census, and more than half naming Hispanic ethnicity. Kensington is also one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, regularly posting the highest numbers for violent crime and the lowest for education, employment, and positive health outcomes.

Original “Kensington and Fentanyl” video here.

The fentanyl crisis from a doctor’s perspective and an author’s research:

In an Ethnic Media Service briefing last month, Dr. John who works in a mid-west emergency room (he asked to be anonymous) and researcher and author, Sam Quinones, a journalist, storyteller, former LA Times reporter, and author of four acclaimed books of narrative nonfiction, both experts revealed the real-life experiences of fentanyl overdose experiences from real human sources.
     Quinones’s most recent book is The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, released in 2021. The book follows his 2015 release, Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Bloomsbury Press. Both books are critically acclaimed. In January 2022, The Least of Us was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) award for Best Nonfiction Book of 2021.
      Quinones reviewed his detailed research and history on the opioid pandemic. He also provided his Instagram page for those interested in hearing live interviews from the perspective of the drug dealer, drug addicts of all backgrounds.
 
 
Dreamland won a National Book Critics Circle award for the Best Nonfiction Book of 2015. It was also selected as one of the Best Books of 2015 by Amazon.com, the Daily Beast, Buzzfeed, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Entertainment Weekly, Audible, and in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Business by Nobel economics laureate, Prof. Angus Deaton, of Princeton University. In 2019, Dreamland was selected as one the Best 10 True-Crime Books of all time based on lists, surveys, and ratings of more than 90 million Goodread.com readers. Also in 2019, Slate.com selected Dreamland as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the last 25 years. In 2021, GQ Magazine selected Dreamland as one of the “50 Best Books of Literary Journalism of the 21st Century.”